O.K. I finally get it. Last Friday night my wife Michele and I attended Richard Wight Public Charter School for Journalism and Media Art’s 7th annual Black Tie Gala. We have been to this event several times in the past and have enjoyed ones like it as many of D.C.’s charter schools hold fundraisers. But the event is not primarily about increasing the institutional endowment. It is actually staged to celebrate this city’s next generation of leaders.
One hundred percent of this school’s 325 scholars qualify for free or reduced priced meals. In other words, they all come from low-income families and therefore their upbringing is about as different from the ones my kids had as you can get. But that is not the focus of the celebration. We came together to honor the academic achievements of those who could easily have been left behind, ignored, and forgotten about.
The symbolism for the importance of these young people started with the setting. For the first time it was held at the University of the District of Columbia. My hero Dr. Marco Clark, the charter’s chief academic officer and founder, informed me early in the night that the college’s communication department has formed a partnership with the one at his school in which Richard Wright’s students would be able to take advantage of UDC’s facilities. He added that as part of this relationship the charter would have input into the program’s design.
The spirit of defining excellence continued with the highly professional glossy booklet containing the program. It is more accurately described as a book it is so dense with pages. Contained within it are congratulatory letters from ten D.C. Council members and U.S. Congressional Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton and U.S. Representative (Shadow) Franklin Garcia. In a note from Mr. Gregory Adams, Sr. , the school’s board chair, he speaks about the tremendous accomplishments of Richard Wright this term. He writes:
“During the school year 2017/2018 Richard Wright Public Charter School for Journalism and Media Arts received its full accreditation through the Middle States Accreditation Agency and was named one of the 41 Most Innovative K-12 Schools in America for its revolutionary approach to education. Our students were invited again to the Annual Rainbow PUSH Coalition’s Public Policy and Media and Telecommunications Symposium with many notable and historic Civil Rights icons. This year our students were asked to participate, cover, and produce a documentary film on Reverend Jesse Jackson, who met personally with them to talk about his educational experiences and the importance of education. Our founder and CEO, Dr. Marco Clark recognized during the legacy dinner with a “Distinguished Leadership Award” from Reverend Jackson in appreciation for his exemplary dedication and leadership and commitment to the community. We attended and covered the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Convention, the Health Mean Business National Summit at the Chamber of Commerce, the Rotarian Club International Women’s Day Celebration, the State of Race in America hosted by the Aspen Institute at the Newseum, the Will and Jada Smith Family Foundation Careers in Entertainment DC at the Fillmore Theater, and the White House for the South by South Lawn (SXSL) event as an Official Selection the 2016 White house Student Films Festival. I guess it would be safe to say that this year Richard Wright was everywhere.”
Student films are always a highlight of the agenda, and the Reaching Our Excellence in Education (ROXIE) interview with Reverend Jesse Jackson was simply unbelievably moving. His description in slow deliberate words of the day that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated coming after his powerful delivery of his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech the evening before was enough to move the audience to tears. Others such as “Black Girl Fly,” and a disturbing portrait of an interaction between a mother living on welfare and her teenage daughter reminded the overflow crowd of the obstacles that these students have had to overcome just to be able to have a chance to sit in a Richard Wright classroom.
The formal part of the sit-down dinner included the presentation of awards as a way of demonstrating to parents, teachers, students, and guests what is possible to accomplish in this world. Those recognized included Ronald Mason, UDC’s president; Angie Gates, director government of the District of Columbia Office of Cable Television, Film, Music and Entertainment; Pastor Melvin Maxwell, senior pastor, the East Friendship Baptist Church; Gwendolyn Jenkins, Malcolm Jenkins Foundation president; Malcolm Jenkins, NFL player, philanthropist, activist, and entrepreneur; Shauna Small, entrepreneur; and actor Michael Rainey, Jr. Raheem DeVaughn, singer, songwriter, and humanitarian, served as the Master of Ceremonies. D.C. Council member Trayon Wright, Sr. was also recognized for his work in the community.
Many months ago Dr. Clark was kind enough to come to my place of employment and provide a discussion around leadership to my managers. They were captivated. Perhaps it is simply through his will, together with the efforts of his team that include the invincible Michelle Santos, that he is able to persuade these kids to achieve up to their highest potential. It is no wonder that all of the school’s 50 seniors this year have been accepted to college.